domingo, 30 de octubre de 2011


Text: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA

In 2009, while watching the images of News of Spain newsreel, Cynthia Young (Assistant Curator of ICP New York) and Carles Querol (historian) discovered a fragment of them in which appears Robert Capa with a photographic camera in his hand, behind an official car inside which are sitting Juan Negrín (President of the Republican Government) and Vicente Rojo (Head of the Republican Army High Command) during the Farewell to the International Brigades in the Diagonal Avenue of Barcelona on October 28, 1938.

Such a newsreel was firstly projected during decades in different movie theatres of United States and Europe in analog format, using various copies of the original master film, and between 2000 and 2011 it has been broadcast by a number of TV channels all over the world after its digitization.

But because of the shortness of the images in which Robert Capa appears and that the watcher attention is often paid to both the nearest car to the camera and the persons inside it, the presence of the famous photographer in some frames was unnoticed until Cynthia Young and Carles Querol realized it.

From those moments, started a research that has elapsed for two years and we have been able to discover that Robert Capa didn´t use a Leica that day - he stopped using Leica since late May 1937-, and the camera used by him to make the reportage of the Farewell of the International Brigades was a rangefinder Contax II featuring a Sonnar 5 cm f/2 (designed by Ludwig Bertele in 1932) lens, with which he had worked in China during the previous months.

In the background of the image, on top central area of it, Robert Capa is grabbing with his right hand a 35 mm format Zeiss Ikon RF Contax II camera with a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 (a discovery made by José Manuel Serrano Esparza), while Juan Negrín (President of the Republic) and general Vicente Rojo (Head of the High Command of the Republican Army) are advancing inside an official car towards the right of the image across the Diagonal Avenue of Barcelona, while Capa is running highly concentrated, striving after getting pictures from different angles and distances.

This enlargement of the frame enables to watch that it is a Contax II with a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 and original Zeiss Ikon Sonnenblende 40.5 mm for 5 cm lenses with Contax II, Contax III and Contax IIIa.

Zeiss Ikon Sonnenblende for 5 cm lenses.

Capa is wearing the camera hanging from his neck, as was usual in him, stuck into his Zeiss Ikon ever ready leather case.

On the other hand, on middle top of the body of the Contax II camera, as one looks at the image, on the right of the rewinding knob with an indicator of the type of film which is being used, we can glimpse (not without some difficulty) the hotshoe, and on the left (almost indiscernible) are the shutter winding knob and the shutter release button.

With some effort, we can also distinguish the small metallic strap lug for transport, located very near the rewind knob.

And paying attention - above all to the right area of the camera taken by Capa-, it´s also possible to see the Contax II black leather covering on both sides of the lens (the areas with black leather being adjacent to both windows of rangefinder and combined viewfinder are not discernible).

Robert Capa at his purist form, moving quickly and endeavouring to get the best feasible pictures, approaching as much as possible to the epicenter of action.

His face reveals great resolve and top concentration in a man who devoted his life to manage to photograph the most representative moments.

Photo: Unknown author, probably Walter Bosshard. © Estate of Cornell Capa/ICP New York/
Magnum Photos

The Contax II and Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 used by Capa to photograph the Farewell of the International Brigades in Barcelona on October 28, 1938 is the same camera and prime lens with which he is posing on a Japanese tank in this famous image taken in April 1938 in Tai´erzuang (China), Xuzhou front, six months before.

Photo: Unknown author, probably Walter Bosshard. © Estate of Cornell Capa/ICP New York/Magnum Photos

The enlargement of the image enables to see with greater detail the same photographic equipment used by Capa in the Diagonal Avenue of Barcelona: camera Zeiss Ikon Contax II with a Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/2 and its Zeiss Ikon Sonnenblende for 5 cm lenses, Zeiss Ikon eveready leather case and transport strap.

Photo: Unknown author, probably Walter Bosshard. © Estate of Cornell Capa/ICP New York/Magnum Photos
A further enlargement allows to watch with lavish detail the key feature that made Robert Capa change his chromed Leica III to Contax II: its exceedingly large rangefinder base of 90 mm with a magnification of approximately 0.75x, attaining an effective baselength of 67.5 mm, even superior to the one boasted by the Leica M3, along with combined rangefinder and viewfinder instead of the independent windows for RF and viewfinder sported by the Leicas III Model F and Leicas II Model D that Capa had previously made.

This very large rangefinder of the Contax II enabled the photographer to achieve a great focusing accuracy, superior to the one obtained by the thirties and forties M39 mount Leicas, and the combined viewfinder and rangefinder made possible to photograph much more quickly, without forgetting the important fact that the most luminous Zeiss lenses of its catalogue (Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5 cm f/1.5 and Carl Zeiss Jena 5 cm f/2) delivered higher image quality than the Leitz Xenon 5 cm f/1.5 and the Summar 5 cm f/2, specially in sharpness and contrast, differences even more visible at full aperture.

On paying attention to the image, we can watch the huge separation between the coupled viewfinder and rangefinder (on the right of the image, by Capa´s finger of his left hand) and the RF window (smaller, on the left of the image, half hidden by the right knee of the photographer).

Copyright Text: José Manuel Serrano Esparza. LHSA
Inscribed in the Territorial Registry of the Intellectual Property of Madrid.

Cameras used by Gerda Taro:


Robert Capa and Kodachrome: